When Fear Shows Up

by  David Greer  |  Self Leadership
When Fear Shows Up

I recently was face-to-face with my fears. My wife Karalee and I were in Santa Cruz for a conference with my long-time technology friends where we spent the weekend collaborating and discussing the future of technology and innovation.

The conference ended Sunday afternoon, after which Karalee and I had a nice drive, followed by dinner. We turned in for the night, ready for an early morning start to return to Vancouver.

All seemed copacetic until I was awakened at 4:00 am by the sound of running, shouting, and hitting all right under the window of our ocean facing hotel room. Then there was silence for a few minutes. Then I could hear a voice calling out quietly from the street below “Help me.”

I lay there for quite a while, not wanting to acknowledge or do anything about what had or was happening. Maybe for twenty minutes. During that time, all sorts of stories were going through my head. I didn’t want to get involved. As a Canadian in America, what if I looked through the curtain and the hurt person had a gun? Our flight home was in a few hours, what if the police wanted to question me? How would I protect Karalee?

The truth was that fear was keeping me lying there in bed. I was also pretending to be asleep, not wanting to acknowledge to Karalee that we should do something. About the same time as I started to get out of bed, she asked me if we should do anything about the person who was still calling for help.

I struggled to find my flashlight, peaked through the curtains to see a man laying on the bike path across the street. I tried calling 911 on my cell phone, which didn’t go through, then Karalee suggested that I use the hotel phone. As I lifted the receiver, two police cars showed up outside our hotel window, so I put the phone down.

In looking at this incident and examining my feelings and responses, I am reminded that we all experience fear. The fear we experience is often the biggest thing that holds us back in business and in life. Here is what I learned from this experience:

  • Acknowledge You Are Fearful – It took quite a while in that Santa Cruz hotel room to admit to myself that I was afraid. When I did, I needed to acknowledge to myself how that fear was manifesting itself. Only after that internal processing was I able to move forward.
  • Others Are Fearful – I know that there were people staying in the rooms on either side of us and in the hotel next door. The police showed up just as I was picking up the hotel handset. That meant that whoever called 911 only did so a minute or two before. We were all scared together. We all put off calling the police. When leading people, when making changes in your life, or tackling a difficult challenge know that those around you are likely fearful too. Only by bringing the fear into the open do you have a chance to acknowledge it and do something to overcome the fears, real or imagined. A powerful question you can ask yourself and others is “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”
  • Have Compassion – Fear was baked into our DNA a million or more years ago. It’s why we have survived as a species. What moved me to action that morning in the Santa Cruz hotel room? Compassion for the human being I heard calling for help. When I opened my heart to another person’s suffering, I was able to overcome my own fears. Have compassion for yourself and for those you lead when fear shows up.

I hope the injured person we saw in Santa Cruz got the help he needed and is healing from whatever it was that happened to him. There will be another time when I experience fear. When it does, I hope to remember this experience so that I might respond faster. Raise your awareness of when fear is showing up for you or your team mates and have compassion as you overcome those fears to rise to your next challenge.

What has been an impact fear has had for you? Tell me about it in the comments!
Photo Credit: Early Morning at the Santa Cruz Beach by David J. Greer

About The Author

Articles By david-greer
David is the catalyst who gets you to fully live your dreams now. After time with him you feel equally scared and hopeful. Scared at the audacity of your dreams and hopeful because you have someone in your corner with the experience and desire to see your dreams become real.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Jane Anderson  |  07 Oct 2015  |  Reply

My greatest fears stem from things outside my control and affect people I care about. I’ve realized them more recently when 4 of my friends lost their husbands to unexpected death. My fear is for them now that their companion is gone and the only thing I can do for them is be a friend and pray for them. It’s probably a manifestation and extension of fear of the unknown, but it seems to be my fear for someone else that causes me the deepest emotional turmoil.

David Greer  |  07 Oct 2015  |  Reply

So sorry Jane to hear of your friend’s unexpected losses. The same day we experienced the events in this post a very close sailing friend was kidnapped off the dock in the South Philippines. There is still no word of his whereabouts or the other three people kidnapped at the same time. There is so much we do not control. All we have is our responses to the events we experience. I know that you are there for your friends.

Jack Durish  |  07 Oct 2015  |  Reply

I gave up one sleepless night to confront this issue and posted the result on my blog just yesterday. Fear, it seems, is on our minds these days. I have experienced both fear and anger and realized that both are born of the same thing: Helplessness. Think about it. I did. I grew up with an abusive father. I was helpless to avoid his abuse. Often I reacted with fear. Sometimes I reacted with anger. Both grew out of the same helplessness. I’ve been to war and experienced the same dichotomy of emotions for the same reasons. Interestingly, both emotions may engender the same response: Irrational thoughts and behavior which do nothing to mitigate the helplessness. Fear and anger dissipate with time, but helplessness is simply there unless you do something constructive. Something that makes you better prepared. Something that makes you less helpless when you find yourself in similar circumstances in the future. Maybe, just maybe, that will mitigate the fear and anger…

Mary C. Schaefer  |  07 Oct 2015  |  Reply

David, thank you so much for sharing your story, and for being so transparent. Writing that would have required me to overcome fear of being judged.

There are so many ways fear can show up in our lives. Your story reminds me of how it can come out of nowhere.

When I was in my 20’s I recall seeing a TV new segment about a woman being kidnapped. I remember telling my dad that I would bite, scratch and fight. I suspected I could kill my attacker with my bare hands.

Then a few years later my brother was mugged. He told me that he sort of shut down. He said that despite how you think you’ll react, you never know until you are there. Two things: 1) Even if you have presence of mind, it may not be in your best interest to fight and 2) you just don’t know how fear is going to impact you, potentially to the point where you can’t move.

That primal part of our brains runs the show. It’s all about what we define as something to be feared. I learn more every day about what I fear, and consider how I can dissolve the irrational.

Thank you David for reminding me to be compassionate with myself, because that is what I felt for you as you recounted your story.

David Greer  |  07 Oct 2015  |  Reply

Thanks Jack. I read your post “Do fear and anger share a common root?” which others can find at this link:


My belief is that our limbic brain responds to what it perceives the situation to be. That part of our brain has protected us and our ancestors for millions of years. Classically, we say that our responses are fight or flight–I think there is a third one–hide.

When we experience helplessness I think we are trying to hide. That was certainly what I was doing when I lay there in bed in that hotel room in Santa Cruz.

When we get angry, I think we are getting into fight mode.

Thankfully, we can sooth our limbic brain and use our cerebral cortex to override our fear response, whatever they may be. Anger, helplessness, or any other of a range of reactions are all normal. Our choice is whether we recognize the fear when it is there and then decide what our response should be. Your example points out that some people’s response to the same event can be at polar opposites.

David Greer  |  07 Oct 2015  |  Reply

Thanks Mary. As un my response to Jack above, the very primitive part of our brain responds to dangerous events in its own way. Whether we will fight or hide is something we cannot know until we are in the situation.

Being compassionate with ourselves is hard to do and ultimately the most beneficial path to pursue. By recognizing our fears in less dangerous situations and building up our ways of responding to the fear when it is there, builds those compassionate muscles for ourselves and how we can and will choose to respond.

John Smith  |  07 Oct 2015  |  Reply

Hi, David and Troupe:)

Fascinating discussion. Thanks, David, for disclosing so personally to start it off.

As has been mentioned, we react to what we perceive, rather than simply to what is, and that lies at the base of the immobilizing fear so many of us have experienced.

The comment about not really knowing how you will react until you experience something is also worth emphasizing. The younger we are, the more likely we are to paint a braver and more ethical picture of our hypothetical behavior. As we age, we gain experience and tend to modify our internal image. Our brain gets smarter, at least to some degree.

However, another angle on this is that we sometimes become overcautious as we gain experience. When one knows that drinking and driving can be dangerous, we might become fearful of any instance of drinking and driving. Parents experience this when they allow their adolescents to venture forth without them. The parent knows just how easily things can go wrong, while the adolescent is still protected by their youthful veneer.

I have experienced fear often enough in different situations to know that I am probably on the over-cautious side of the spectrum and no hero. However, there is another way to consider fear than just in the physical sense.

I also know that I easily venture into areas where others fear to go because of emotional or psychological factors. At various points in my life, I have dealt head-on with people in trauma, grief, crisis, depression, and other situations which had most people literally running to get away. On one campus, I was known as “Mr. Death” (to my staff only) because I was the usual point person for handling students, teachers, and staff members who had to be informed of the death of a loved one.

Not a place I wanted to be or enjoyed particularly, but I could deal with the raw emotion better than most. I still remember vividly on several occasions lingering outside a door, wishing desperately for some valid reason to not knock on that door and do what I was there to do.

That said, losing someone I love is one of my greatest fears …

Thanks for stirring the thinking AND feeling muscles up today.


David Greer  |  07 Oct 2015  |  Reply

Hi John,

I’m glad that my post got you feeling. I know that Karalee and I were very much “felling it” when we got woken up at 4:00 am that morning in Santa Cruz.

My guess is that you are someone who is capable of putting your feelings “on the shelf” when needed, such as when telling someone about the death of a loved one. While you never liked that responsibility, you were likely better able than all those around you to deal with what came up for you emotionally in those situations. Like I say–that’s my guess.

I too have got more cautious as I have aged. I’m a little less aggressive charging down the steepest hill on the mountain when skiing with my children. Falls do hurt more and take longer to recover from than when I was 18, so there is some good reason for my hesitation. On the other hand, there is nothing like blasting down a steep run with my three children as the four of us leave smoke trails of snow behind us. A case of resonance of the experience triumphing over the fear of the falling.

May we all recognize and build on our capabilities to deal with our fears.



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